insight magazine

6 Tips to Inspire Team Productivity

Inspiring employee performance and productivity in the knowledge-based economy takes talent. By Bridget McCrea | Digital Exclusive - 2017


Not long ago, workers were revered or reviled for their production or “output.” But the country’s ongoing transition to a knowledge-based economy has flipped that tradition on its head—kind of. In today’s leading organizations, the focus is on “outcomes” and the business benefits each employee brings to the table.

While this sounds reasonable enough, it means team managers and leaders must also shift their techniques to be able to clarify business expectations as they relate to workers’ availability, contributions, and new productivity measurements.

“The shift from industrial and agricultural work to knowledge work poses a challenge for productivity measurement, and therefore for improvement,” says Maura Thomas, founder of “Part of that challenge is leaving behind notions about what constitutes productivity that we now know are unsustainable today.”

As organizations grapple with defining what productivity means to them, here are six tips team leaders can put into action now to help inspire greater productivity:

Mind employee engagement.

The most important factor that contributes to a worker’s productivity is his or her attitude about work, says Thomas. “Productivity is rooted in factors that aren’t often considered, such as their well-being and state of mind, their work environment, and their opportunities for downtime,” she notes. As such, measuring productivity by the progress someone makes on his or her specific goals in any given time frame can reveal just how engaged he or she really is. “This is all dependent upon the employee’s energy levels, happiness, and ability to focus his or her attention,” Thomas adds.

Spell out expectations.

You can’t measure what you don’t know, so a good starting point for any firm trying to do a better job of measuring employee productivity should start with laying out some clear expectations and guidelines.

Look at both the tangibles (i.e., so many clients serviced, so many tax returns completed, so much revenue generated, etc.) and the intangibles (i.e., providing expert customer service, building relationships with clients, mentoring peers, etc.), and then use them to benchmark individual successes.

“Use those benchmarks to determine whether or not team members are hitting their goals,” says Jennifer Martin of Zest Business Consulting in Ojai, Calif., “and to track their progress towards success.” By using key performance indicators (KPIs), for example, you can point to “milestones” that will help measure each individual’s success. “Knowing the KPIs before any work begins will help everyone see where they are making progress and better understand where they are along the path towards the organization’s ultimate goals.”

Be SMART about it.

When laying out team expectations, Martin suggests using the SMART guidelines to help define exactly what’s expected of each goal or project. This gives your team the details they need to succeed, and it gives you, or senior leadership, a yardstick to measure progress against. Here’s the framework:

  • Specific – Include the who, what, when, where, why, and how.
  • Measurable – A numeric or descriptive measure that defines key metrics to hit, like quantity, quality, costs, etc.
  • Achievable – A goal that is within the employees’ control and influence.
  • Relevant – A goal that is important to the mission of the department and/or organization.
  • Timely – A target date for completion or frequency of specific actions that are important for achieving the goal.

Creatively fill calendars.

“One of the biggest ways to measure productivity at a financial services firm is by assigning weekly goals,” says James Pollard of, a marketing consultant who works specifically with financial advisors.

For example, if you’d like your administrative assistant to make 50 follow-up calls, give him or her enough freedom to conduct those calls throughout the week. “That way, the employee will still get the urgent, short-term tasks completed, but also has to fill up the white space on his or her calendar with the calls,” Says Pollard. Organizations that want to take productivity measurement to the next level can deploy a customer relationship management (CRM) program to track those activities and interactions by requiring workers to “log in” and document results within the program.

Don’t overlook telecommuters.

We all know that working from home or remotely requires a high level of self-discipline, but just because someone is offsite doesn’t mean he or she is exempted from oversight. Pollard says CPA firms that want to keep tabs on worker productivity outside of their own office walls, for instance, can utilize online time-tracking tools like Screenshot Monitor, RescueTime, and StayFocusd to measure worker computer usage.

“Numbers don’t lie,” says Pollard. “If someone says they spent 68 percent of their time doing insurance work during the course of the week, it’s easy enough to check that.” Even better, those measures can be used to set new goals and establish benchmarks for the future. “Not only are you measuring current worker productivity,” says Pollard, “but you’re also striving to make improvements that can positively impact the individual, the team, and the company as a whole.”

Keep their attention.

The important work that moves both personal and professional goals forward requires leaders to provide insight to their teams that inspires intellect and creativity. “That’s rarely the kind of work that lives in email or that can be done in two-minute increments,” says Thomas.

In other words, give your time to your team. The high-quality knowledge work—like the kind that takes place in the accounting and finance fields day in and day out—requires workers’ full attention, and it’s your job to make sure that happens.

“Great results don’t just happen,” says Thomas. “In this new world of work without walls, you can’t leave productivity to chance. Attention—or the lack thereof—to productivity issues can determine whether your organizational culture supports high-quality knowledge work, or sabotages it.”